It’s been a long, lonely winter atop the Billboard Hot 100 in 2015. We’d gotten mutliple weeks into July, over half the year already transpired, with only three new songs climbing to the top of that flagship chart: Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk!,” Taylor Swift and Kendrick Lamar’s “Bad Blood” remix, and Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s “See You Again.” (Swift’s “Blank Space” also began the year on top as a carryover from 2014). What’s more, “Bad Blood” only accounted for one of the combined 27 weeks those three songs reigned over; the rest were comprised of 14 weeks of “Uptown Funk!” and an unthinkable 12 of “See You Again.”
The rule of “Funk!” was, to a certain extent, inarguable. It’s hard to imagine a song more custom-designed for such chart dominance, able to span genres and generations and infest the soundtracks to mass celebrations like no song since the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” — also a 14-week No. 1 — a half-decade earlier. “See You Again,” however, was a lot less plausible as a chart conqueror: A hip-hop ballad from the Furious 7 soundtrack in memory of deceased franchise star Paul Walker, from a rapper not traditionally known for seriousness alongside an unknown guest vocalist, it would have been nobody’s pick at season’s beginning for a legitimate Song of the Summer candidate. However, not only has the song been the clear frontrunner for such honors for months, it’s essentially run unopposed: “Bad Blood” briefly interrupted Wiz’s stay at pole position six weeks in thanks to first-week sales of its much-hyped remix (and streams of its instantly viral video), but once those died down, it proved no match for “See You Again,” which resumed its run for another six weeks totally unabated.
That is, until this week. At long last, there is new blood at the top of the 100, in the form of OMI’s “Cheerleader.” Brand new, in fact — while Bruno, Taylor, and Wiz are all making return visits to No. 1 on the Hot 100, neither OMI, the Jamaican-born reggae singer behind the song, or Felix Jaehn, the German DJ whose dance remix of the song is largely responsible for its crossover success, have ever even appeared on the chart before. The song’s journey to the top was an uncharacteristically long one, having been released (in its original form) all the way back in 2012, and having been remixed in May of 2014, but only reaching the Hot 100 back in April, after topping the charts all throughout Europe and April and finally making its way to radio Stateside.
However long it took to get there, though, its arrival comes not a moment too soon. “Cheerleader” is everything a summer jam should be, and everything “See You Again” wasn’t: fun, lightweight, infectious, and unmistakably warm weather. Its verses are sweet and unassuming and immensely fun to sing along to (“When I neeeeed mo-tee-vay-shunnn…“), its chorus is instantly familiar and quickly unforgettable (you’ll never be able to say the word “cheerleader” again without emphasizing the second syllable), and thanks to Jaehn’s vodka-on-the-rocks remix, it breezes along with a gentle bounce to make it dance floor-ready (but not dance floor-compulsory). It’s both timely and timeless, tied to contemporary post-Disclosure Top 40 with its stately 4/4 thump and ’90s house-indebted production, but also evocative of enduring reggae and dancehall summertime smashes throughout the years by Shaggy, Sean Paul, and countless others. (It also packs more trumpet than an entire Social Experiment record, and it’s never a bad time for that much trumpet.)
Perhaps most crucially, its success feels organic and spontaneous. A good Song of the Summer is like a good nickname: It should never be planned, and it should certainly never come self-assigned. The degree of popularity that “See You Again” achieved was unpredictable, but it hardly came out of nowhere — it was delivered as the marquee single from one of the year’s most-anticipated blockbuster films (and accompanying soundtracks), and starred a rapper already familiar with the top of the charts, “Black and Yellow” having bested the Hot 100 for a week in 2011. By contrast, this time last year, few people in the U.S. had heard of “Cheerleader,” or anything or anyone prominently associated with it. It feels like the true choice of the people, because if the people didn’t demand its popularity, there’s no reason anyone would’ve tried to push it on them.
The stagnation on top of the Hot 100 this year has been a huge bummer for pop fans and chart watchers, especially as worthy challengers like Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen” (peaking at No. 2) and Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance” (No. 3) have been denied entry to the top spot. Whether OMI continues the trend of tenants refusing to vacate the premises once their stay at No. 1 becomes interminable, or marks the beginning of an overdue influx of new talent to the esteemed position — the sinister funk of the Weeknd’s”Can’t Feel My Face,” up to No. 3 this week, would make for a worthy successor in a couple weeks’ time — its presence there this week offers a much-needed breath of fresh air. Don’t close the polls on the Song of the Summer race yet: There’s two months left in this thing, and at long last, “Cheerleader” is right there when we need it.